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Pismo Beach is only SLO County city without grants for businesses 

Pismo Beach is the sole city in San Luis Obispo County that hasn't offered direct financial aid to local businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and city staff say that's partly because the city has been unusually busy for the past several months.

click to enlarge NO DIRECT AID Although Pismo Beach gave about $110,000 to local nonprofits in need of help amid the pandemic, it’s the only city in SLO County without a grant program geared toward its businesses. - FILE PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • File Photo By Kasey Bubnash
  • NO DIRECT AID Although Pismo Beach gave about $110,000 to local nonprofits in need of help amid the pandemic, it’s the only city in SLO County without a grant program geared toward its businesses.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, cities throughout SLO County have offered assistance in various forms to local businesses and nonprofits struggling to survive amid coronavirus-related shutdowns and operational restrictions.

Most, including Pismo, waived some operational fees for businesses early on in the pandemic, turned normally public spaces into areas now used for outdoor dining, offered assistance in paying for now necessary safety and cleaning equipment, and are working to promote local shops through marketing and city-funded discounts.

But unlike every other city in SLO County, Pismo doesn't have a grant program geared toward its small businesses.

Paso Robles Economic Development Manager Paul Sloan said his city funneled about $200,000 worth of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to 34 Paso businesses in the form of grants ranging from $4,000 to $6,000.

Arroyo Grande has put at least $60,000 in CARES Act funding toward grants for its small businesses so far, and Grover Beach recently launched its fourth round of such grants. When the most recent round is wrapped up, Grover Beach will have distributed $750,000 to its local businesses, paid for by its general fund, the CARES Act, and Senate Bill 1090, a law that provided SLO County with millions of dollars to mitigate the economic impacts of the upcoming Diablo Canyon Power Plant closure.

But Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis said his city is in a different situation than its neighbors.

Pismo Beach has been busier than ever throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The town and beach have seen record numbers of visitors, and Lewis said sales tax and transient occupancy tax receipts indicate that Pismo's business community saw increased revenue from June to October of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.

Plus, Lewis said, Pismo didn't get much help from the CARES Act. CARES Act funds were allocated to cities generally based on population, and as the smallest city in SLO County, Pismo received the least funding. While Pismo received just around $100,000 from the CARES Act, according to data provided on the California Department of Finance website, Paso Robles received more than $380,000, and more than $566,000 went to San Luis Obispo.

The little CARES Act funding Pismo did get, Lewis said, went entirely to cleaning and personal protective equipment, COVID-19-related signage, and overtime for public safety personnel when increased security was needed amid full shutdowns at the start of the pandemic.

"We knew that additional federal monies that would far surpass anything the city could do and would provide substantial assistance would be available and they now are," Lewis wrote in an email to New Times. "Monies started flowing this week. State and even more federal dollars are anticipated."

Not all of SLO County's cities have used the CARES Act to fund their grant programs. Morro Bay has provided $134,000 worth of grants to its businesses, and according to City Manager Scott Collins, those funds came entirely from Diablo Canyon Power Plant relief funds. Atascadero pulled $250,000 from its general fund to put toward small businesses emergency grants, which Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish said went to 64 businesses.

Jocelyn Brennan, president and CEO of the South County Chambers of Commerce, said that while a number of hotels in Pismo would likely agree that business is booming, the same can't be said for other smaller businesses.

"Many are struggling," she wrote in a message to New Times. Δ

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